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Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Crafting Your Inspiration - Writing Series Week 3

Last week we discussed a variety of ways we can receive inspiration, including inspiration directly from the Holy Spirit. When I first began writing, I figured if God sent me inspiration, I should just record it, et viola, it would be perfect. It took a very wise teacher to convince me of the error of my ways. He pointed out that the Biblical writers themselves did much crafting and revising to turn their writing into the finest poetry of their day. I had always gotten the impression that they went into some sort of trance or God just moved their hand or something. In fact, the opposite is true. As I continued studying prophetic traditions, such a trance would be typical of Eastern or pagan religious traditions, but not Judaism or Christianity. The God of the Bible never moves without a person's willing consent.

So let’s take a look at how Biblical writers received inspiration from God. The writers of the prophetic books are especially helpful in explaining how they received their words from God. Many simply say that they heard the word of the Lord, or that the word of the Lord came to them. I assume these authors including Jeremiah, Hosea, Joel, Zephaniah, and Haggai most likely heard some sort of audible voice. Others like Isaiah, Ezekiel, Amos, Obadiah, Micah, Zechariah, and John saw visions. Daniel had dreams. Moses actually met with God face to face. Writers of the historical, gospel, and poetic books do not mention any direct intervention by God, although we know from other verses that all Biblical writing is inspired by God. It would be reasonable to assume that they recorded the moves of God they witnessed around them and the poems God placed in their hearts in a simpler manner.

Even in the case of the prophets, many including Isaiah and Jeremiah, crafted the words and visions the Lord gave them into some of the finest poetry of the ancient world. In fact, these poets are still read in secular universities across the nation because of the high caliber of their craftsmanship. Hebrew poetry uses devices such as simile, metaphor, alliteration, hyperbole, synechdoche, and merism just to mention a few. That’s a lot of work to add to a vision. I’m sure it took many long hours of writing and revising.

Throughout the Bible we can see that God uses skilled laborers who have trained and studied in their arts. In Exodus 26 and 28 he appoints skilled craftsmen to build the tabernacle. In I Chronicles 25 we see skilled musicians being assigned to the temple. God honors and appreciates hard work and training, whether it be through formal schooling, mentorship, or the direct tutelage of the Holy Spirit.

Of course, as with every rule, there are exceptions. For example, Habakkuk was not a well educated man, and in his case, God commanded him to record the message given to him word for word. "I will stand at my watch and station myself on the ramparts; I will look to see what he will say to me, and what answer I am to give to this complaint. Then the LORD replied: "Write down the revelation and make it plain on tablets so that a herald may run with it.” ~ Habakkuk 2:1-2.

And I must confess, that as much as I advocate crafting and hard work, I have seen exceptions in my own life as well. One was a poem I wrote after receiving a hard bump on the head. It was a sestina, which is a highly structured form poem in iambic pentameter. Generally people consider these nearly impossible to write. But that day after smacking myself in the noggin, I jotted down a nearly perfect sestina in under an hour. It’s been published in its original state. Click here to see the poem and a detailed version of this story.

A longer example of an exception would be my narrative nonfiction book. I wrote that manuscript very much under the direct influence of the Holy Spirit in six days, barely stopping to eat or sleep. Because of that, I was able to stay in the flow of the anointing. Now, it did still need proofreading and editing, however, the form and structure of the book were surprisingly strong after only one draft, even though I wrote it with no outline.

But here’s the thing. Before writing that sestina, I had been reading iambic pentameter for months. I had been writing poetry all year. Before writing that book, I had been studying and practicing writing for three and a half years straight. I also studied writing in college and earned a master’s degree in the subject. So you could say I wrote that sestina in an hour, or in twenty-eight years. Likewise, you could say I wrote that book in six days, or thirty-nine years. As we apply ourselves exercising the gifts that God has given us, we become better and better conduits through which he can flow.

We will spend the next few weeks learning about the hard work and crafting we will need to apply to our books in the following areas: strategic planning, form and structure, artistic elements, and technical elements.

But before I close, I want to share some thoughts on the strategic planning stage of writing. If God has given you a simple poem, devotional, essay, etc…it does not require much time to write it down and polish it up. However, before you start an entire book, I highly recommend that you take the idea God has given you and do some strategic planning. The main goal is to figure out what God wants you to say, and who he wants you to say it to.

What God wants you to say could be called your theme—your main point. For example, the theme of my narrative nonfiction book mentioned above is intimacy with Christ. In fiction we sometimes focus more on the premise—a one sentence summary of the plot. For my contemporary novel, I began with a premise: A blonde ballerina, veiled Muslim woman, and New Age hippie chick meet over a group project on diversity. Or perhaps, especially if your idea is more research oriented, you may start with a question. As I mentioned last week, my historical novel began with a question: What is the true nature of love? Before you sit down to write a book, you should have a fairly clear idea of what the purpose of the book is. You should also know the genre. Will it be a biography, narrative nonfiction, novel? If a novel, what kind, historical, romance, sci-fi, ect…? Maybe some combination or genres? If so, which ones?

Who God wants you to give your message to could be called your audience. Who is your audience? Children, teens, young adults, middle-aged women? Christians or non Christians? Average readers or a literary audience? Authors like to think that everyone would enjoy their book, but that’s rarely the case, and publishers want you to target a specific audience. Going back to our Biblical examples, the gospels and epistles clearly demonstrate how the same message can be written with differing audiences in mind. Also note how the giftings and strengths of each writer comes through in their unique presentations of the gospel message.

Once you know your target audience and the general idea of your book, you can begin studying the rules and conventions of that genre. For instance, there are certain word lengths required for different genres. Publishers expect manuscripts in specific fonts and formats. Children’s picture books require a certain numbers of double page spreads. Theatre scripts are typed differently than film scripts. Honestly, I don’t know them all. There are too many. But you can begin learning the genres you desire to write in on your own.

Next week I’ll talk about how to take your theme or premise and begin to turn the idea into a more complex outline or plot structure. Hope you’ll come back for more. Also, later this week I’m going to put up a list of the twenty things I wish I knew before I started writing my first novel for those of you writing in that genre. In the meantime…

Homework: Do some self study into the proper format for your genre and any current rules. Think about the message God has laid on your heart. Run it through the strategic planning stage. What is your purpose, your audience, your story question, your premise, your theme? In other words, what will this accomplish for the kingdom of God?

12 comments:

  1. Interesting very interesting never even heard of most of these terms and now I am starting to see how things come together in the writting process and am no longer scared of it.

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  2. Hope I'm not throwing too many crazy terms around. On the other hand, if you don't know them, it will give you an idea of the areas you need to study more. As for the Hebrew poetry terms, many of those don't apply to contemporary poetry. Just wanted to give a feel for how much work they put into it.

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  3. Dina, you've overwhelmed me with pre-thinking all this about theme and whatnot. An informative overwhelming, though. I do see how I need to ponder these aspects more.

    You said: The God of the Bible never moves without a person's willing consent.

    Well, I see what you mean in the context of this post. Only I disagree.

    God doesn't need people to accomplish His work. He can use unbelievers. Ever watched a movie or a tv show and thought, "Wow, that's an awesoem presentation of a biblical truth!"

    I think that happens because God and eternity are written on the human heart...on all human hearts.

    Soemtimes, too, God chooses to take the unwilling vessel and introduce him into the Heavenly Light. Kinda like what God did to Saul on the Damascus road. It's logical to assume that Saul heard more than just Stephen's preaching. He knew the law. He knew how they were preaching that Christ freed us from the law.

    Ever considered that the conviction of the Holy Spirit is what encited his anger against the First Church believers? I know personally hearing God's voice speaking truth that I didn't want to hear makes a person miserable.

    Finally God had enough with Saul's unwillingness.

    Did Ananais go willingly to share the gospel with Saul? Seems he did what he was told not necessarily with a cheerful heart.

    Anyhoo, I know the point you were making. We are to be jars of clay to be used by God to do His good work. We also need to realize that when we're open to write to God's leading, that doesn't necessearily mean what we wrote on the first draft is perfect. Revising isn't a sin. LOL.

    Love these teaching posts. Keep up the good work!

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  4. Good thoughts, Gina. What I meant was that God does not force us into trances and make us do things without our consent, but he is indeed always working behind the scenes.

    A story to illustrate both of our points would be Balaam's donkey. God couldn't get any human prophet to consent to speaking his word, so he sent it through a donkey who actually spoke in human language. Trust me, I've felt like Balaam's donkey before. Ha ha.

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  5. Henrietta FrankenseeMarch 25, 2011 at 5:26 PM

    Never a day goes by that I don't wonder at the frail and fallible vessel God is pouring His delights into. That has to be the most loving thing about Him, He never gives up hoping and using and morphing the worst parts into beauty. I strongly believe that pain and suffering are necessary for maturity and it is unwise to actually run from it (though of course I think about running and do run often). Pain is also vital to an artist. What great artist had an easy life? None. Why would I expect to be perfected without it if Jesus had to endure the cross to perfect me? (Heb 2:10)
    Next step is to develop the skill of words, growing a vocabulary, grammar, style, dialogue fluency etc. etc. I am pleased with the progress I have made in my 8 years. My worst fault was throwing around million dollar words to disguise emotion. I love the sound of 'discombobulate' but there are only so many times in 100 000 000 words that one can use it.
    In the last year I have read Novel Matters I have expanded my knowledge of the publishing industry. I read various websites and last night went online to see manuscript requirements. 1)these are changing so rapidly right now...a mine field really....no place for an NCO 2) I am very old fashioned and literary. I like to make a reader think and go back over a scene several times to glean all the treasures. I learn that this is not always 'publishable'.
    Now I need to think about my audience and what I am trying to accomplish in the Kingdom. I'll get back to you later.

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  6. I think it's fine to give your readers lots to chew on, but they need to get the basic storyline in one read through, because many readers don't want to chew. Some just want the action, the story, and you need to give them that. Others can choose to luxuriate in all the layers and levels.

    Also, I think you need to pin down exactly your genre. If it is sci-fi, then you definitely need a quicker read, but if it's more of an allegory, readers will be more patient and aware that they need to look deeper.

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  7. Henrietta FrankenseeMarch 27, 2011 at 12:11 PM

    Yes, I agree, (vehemently) story comes first, plenty of action, movement, conflict and grace. In my humble opinion I have it in my story but of course it will take another brain to truly decide.
    I just googled Speculative Allegory and found the blog Speculative Faith. There is a post from Feb 28 of this year about people not liking Allegory. Thank you for the lead! You are teaching me much more than what falls in your course!
    In light of this article I am shy to call my story Allegory. I do not deny that it is there but it could be skimmed over and ignored for love of the plot and characters (again, my humble opinion.) I will continue to explore the Speculative Faith Blog to find my genre. My story is only speculative in the setting, not the fixation on gadgetry or the inclusion of mythical beasts. It is a way of removing expectations, of saying, 'all us humans are the same to God', and, 'be attracted to whatever tribe in the story closely resembles your own'. If I did write about the British then all manner of traits and prejudices suddenly become assumed.
    I eagerly await your reply!

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  8. I would say that spec fiction, sci-fi, and fantasy all have allegorical elements. However, an actual allegory is heavy handed, and that's the part people sometimes don't like. If there are just symbolic messages, then I personally wouldn't call it an allegory.

    Of those three categories, yours sounds like sci-fi to me. I've read sci-fi without a lot of science, just set in the future.

    Check out Arena by Karen Hancock. It's an ammaaazzzing sci-fi book that is sort of an allegory for the spiritual quest. But I do believe it is categorized as sci-fi. Also check the Firebird series by Kathy Tyers. That has some science, but not much.

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  9. Henrietta FrankenseeMarch 27, 2011 at 5:52 PM

    Thank you so much for your help! You are going to a great deal of trouble for a stranger!
    I am happy to come under a broad genre like Sci-fi. I will look into the parameters. Arena was also highly recommended by the Speculative Faith Blog.

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  10. No problem at all. I enjoy teaching, and I've been so blessed over at novel matters. It's a joy to give back.

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  11. Dina,

    Thank you for this class! Even though I'm not taking it in person, I'm learning so much and really honing in on what God wants me to write. Much like you, I've always thought about the inspiration part of the writers of the Scriptures. It makes me appreciate the Bible on another level now. I loved the concussion-inspired poem, too!

    I'm still trying to make sure I've determined my genre correctly, which I think would be supernatural. My setting is a rural town in modern day North Carolina , however there are a lot of unexplained things going on around them. Just to give you an overview...my story features: mysterious messages scrawled onto the wall of an abandoned farmhouse and someone's bathroom mirror (later revealed that it's from God), encounters with angels (even though they don't find out until the climax that that's what they are), a patient with Alzheimer's becoming momentarily lucid and prophetic, and one character actually hears God speak audibly to her, but thinks it's the male character. I know it's not sci-fi, but I thought maybe you might have a better idea of what genre this might be if it's not supernatural.

    Also, do you have any suggestions from the supernatural genre that I might want to check out?

    thanks,
    Allison

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  12. Supernatural is probably a good way to describe it, although I almost find it sad that we need to delineate in that way. I would like to think these sort of occurrences are normal enough in the lives of believers. But the angel encounters probably are the main thing pushing it into the supernatural realm.

    I really love James Rubart's Rooms. And like yours, it's sort of hard to pin down the genre. I think it's just listed as contemporary fiction, though. I'll double check that and if I'm wrong I'll get back to you. I will tell you that it was a really hard sell. Took him years to get someone to take a risk on it. But it hit the best-seller list once he found a publisher. If you haven't read it, you definitely need to. Another would be Demon by Tosca Lee, which I must confess I haven't read, but I've heard it's one of the best. And of course the old Frank Peretti stuff. My favorite is Piercing the Darkness.

    Another one to look at would be The Passion ofMary-Margaret by Lisa Samson. It is not classified as supernatural, although there are many supernatural occurrences. That might help you find the line. Lisa Samson is just contemporary fiction. James Rubart is borderline, Tosca Lee and Frank Peretti are clearly supernatural.

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